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Historic Brandon home to be moved, not razed

With their backs against the wall, preservationists and the Hillsborough County Commission shifted positions last week to devise a plan to save a historic Brandon home.

Commissioners voted unanimously Jan. 17 to budget $50,000 to move the Galvin-Jaudon house, which was built more than 100 years ago by one of Brandon's first residents, an Irishman named Daniel Galvin.

It was a solution the board had never before considered in the months of controversy surrounding the structure at 201 Victoria St. The house was set to be torn down by the First Baptist Church of Brandon to make way for a family recreation center.

At the same time, preservationists who had insisted that the building should be preserved where it was built, changed their stance.

Byron Dean, president of the Brandon Historical Association and a seemingly immovable advocate of keeping the house where it is, offered his 1.5-acre property on Kings Avenue as a possible new location for the structure.

What changed?

Those close to the issue say it was simply a matter of timing, or rather, a lack of it.

The church had a demolition permit and in two days, a final 90-day grace period for finding a place to move the house would be over.

Now, county staff members have to come up with a place to put the house.

Commissioners say they'd like the house on public property. Their first choice for a new location is next to the 25,000-square-foot county service center to be built on Pauls Drive. But that land won't be available until April, and church officials have said they want the home moved as soon as possible.

In May, county staff told commissioners that neither the real estate department or parks department could find a place for it.

Commissioner Pat Frank said she asked Hillsborough County school superintendent Earl Lennard if there might be school property for the home and was told no.

If no county land can be found, commissioners say they would support moving it to a place where a non-profit organization could use it and make it available to the public.

In that case, Dean's property seems like a good bet. In the past six months, he's demonstrated sincere passion for the home. He said he would turn the building into a public museum and meeting space for the Brandon Historical Association and other community groups. The association, he said, would oversee its restoration and maintenance.

Chris Tompkins, a Brandon lawyer, has also volunteered to accept the house on a Kings Avenue parcel he owns and turn it into office space for a nonprofit organization.

It's taken 18 months to reach this possible compromise.

As owner of the property, the church has had the right to tear down the house since its purchase in July 2002. But church leaders waited until October 2003 to apply for a demolition permit while the community debated the home's future and then offered to wait another 90 days while those who wanted to save it devised a plan.

Several people offered to take the house but backed off in the face of unyielding opposition from preservationists who wanted it to stay at its current location. The First Baptist Church of Brandon also refused to change its mind about demolition.

At the 11th hour, Commissioner Ronda Storms, who is a member of the church and brought the Galvin-Jaudon issue to the attention of the board in March, asked commissioners last week to come up with the money to move the house.

"I was waiting for somebody in the community to step forward, and frankly nobody did," Storms said. "There were people willing to sign petitions saying they think something should be done, but nobody was willing to come forward and say, "Here, let's come up with a workable plan.' "

Once Storms presented the idea, commissioners and community members suddenly did an about-face.

Dean, his voice dripping with resignation, said in the end his ultimate goal was to save the house, even if doing that meant backpedaling on what seemed a hard-nosed position.

Commissioner Jan Platt said she, too, was motivated by a desire to at least do the next best thing, since the destruction of the home seemed inevitable.

"It was going to be demolished if we didn't act," Platt said.

She said she had not proposed having the county move the home because Brandon preservationists said they didn't want that.

"I had met with the preservationists and talked with them about moving it to county land and they said no, absolutely no," she said.

Commissioner Frank, who in May adamantly opposed budgeting county money for the project, said she had hoped there would be state money to pay for the move and restoration of the home. But when she found out there wasn't, she voted to spend county funds.

"We have to show leadership in preserving the history of the community," she said. "Little by little these things get destroyed because there isn't anyone concerned."

Now all that remains is for this old house to find a home.

Get involved

Community members are invited to offer suggestions on changes to the county's historic preservation ordinance at a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Brandon Community Center, 502 E Sadie Ave. For more information, call 276-8371.